Bangalore, June 29: Barack Obama, the President of United States, described Nelson Mandela as the "Hero of the World" as he landed in South Africa for a three-day visit. The 94-year old anti-apartheid campaigner and activist is fighting a critical lung infection that has been recurring for the past few months.
After several rounds of hospitals since last November, he was finally admitted to Pretoria hospital this month, 21 days back.
While the entire nation joined hands in prayer for Madiba (the name by which he is known in his tribe), they knew that the end was not far when he was put on ventilation. However, being a fighter and someone who did not give up so easily, he fought back death and is doing "much better", as his family members say.
"I'm not a doctor, but I can say that from what he was a few days ago there is great improvement," Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his ex-wife, told reporters outside his former home in Orlando, Soweto.
The scene outside his home reverberates his popularity among the people, as thousands flock outside with flowers and pictures of their leader. And it goes without saying that the numbers are growing by the day.
Considered the founding father of South Africa's multiracial democracy, this iconic figure had changed the face of Africa in the 1950s when he spearheaded an anti-apartheid campaign, giving equal opportunities to the black. People have been singing prayers for the leader throughout the day, hoping dearly that they get to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 18. In fact, South African children released 94 balloons - one for every year of his life - into the air in his honour.
Mandela was the country's first black president from 1994 to 1999 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Although he retired from public life in 2004, he has not been seen in public since the football World Cup finals in 2010.
President Obama, however, will not visit Mandela in the hospital, but would meet his family to share their thoughts and concerns. The President, reportedly, changed his mind out of deference for the icon's "peace and comfort" and out of respect for his family's wishes.
An idol for many across the world, Mandela's battle is crucial this time too-at least for the thousands who follow his footsteps.
Winnie Mandela arrives for press statement
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela arrives for a press statement in front of the house of her former husband and former South African president Nelson Mandela in Soweto. Members of Nelson Mandela's family as well as South African cabinet ministers have visited the hospital where the 94-year-old former president is critically ill.
Bangalore prays for Madiba
Fans of Nelson Mandela hold candles during a prayer meeting for speedy recovery of his health in Bangalore, India.
Praying for Madiba
A young boy rests by a large picture of former South African president Nelson Mandela, placed by the Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa.
Praying for Madiba
Mandela admirers sing as they place well-wishing messages outside the Medi-clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated.
Tribute to the leader
Sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik gives finishing touches to a sand sculpture of former South African presiden Nelson Mandela with a message "God bless Madiba" at Puri beach of Odisha, India.
Winnie Mandela at the hospital
Former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela arrives at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where former South African president Nelson Mandela is being treated.
Family stands by the leader
Left to right, granddaughter Zamaswazi Dlamini, former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and daughter Zenani Dlamini-Mandela of former president Nelson Mandela arrive at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where the iconic leader is being treated.
Get well soon Madiba
A couple of well-wishers outside the entrance to the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where former South African president Nelson Mandela is being treated.
Graca Machel, wife of former president Nelson Mandela, leaves Mandelas' residence in Johannesburg.